Elderly nursing home residents, nursing and care staff are the victims of the “blame game” between Southern Cross Care (SCC) and the Federal Government over a decision by SCC to slash over 2000 crucial nursing hours from its aged care facilities, according to the Australian Nursing Midwifery Federation (ANMF).

Despite recording a profit of over $6 million in Queensland alone for the financial year ended 30 June 2016, the national provider says Federal Government funding cuts are the reason why the organisation was being forced to review its operations.

“SCC blames the Government and the Government blames SCC. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter who’s to blame. Unlike SCC, we only care about the elderly nursing home residents who will be missing out on care and their nursing and care staff who will lose their jobs, or have their working hours dramatically reduced. They’re the victims of this blame game,” ANMF Federal Secretary, Lee Thomas, said.

“Unfortunately, with no regulatory framework ensuring minimum staffing levels in nursing homes in place, the Federal Government is allowing providers like SCC to get away with cutting thousands of nursing and care hours for elderly residents, many of whom have highly complex needs.

Earlier this month Southern Cross CEO Peter Bell issued a media release in which he said the organisation was being forced to review its operations due to funding changes which would include a ‘roster realignment’.

As a not-for-profit provider of aged care, Southern Cross Care takes great pride in the service it delivers, but even not-for-profit providers have to ensure ongoing operations are sustainable. Accordingly, Southern Cross Care has been forced to review staffing rosters across all centres to ensure that the organisation is providing best practice levels of care with the level of efficiency required to ensure they can continue.

“The aged care sector has undergone many changes in recent times and Southern Cross Care must evolve and review our operations to remain sustainable and ensure our continued quality care services.

As a not-for-profit, Southern Cross Care delivers aged care in many areas not served by the profit sector and it’s essential we maintain efficiency to go on delivering this vital community service.

Since May 2017, Southern Cross Care has been consulting with employees, residents and unions in relation to the introduction of new rosters. The new rosters adopt average staffing levels identified through an industry benchmarking survey of over 750 not-for-profit aged care facilities.

Residents care will not be compromised and I am determined to ensure this will not happen.

This change will mean we will continue to deliver quality services, and in particular, sustainable operations in some towns where Southern Cross Care is the only aged care provider. We have been holding meetings with staff, unions, residents and their families to let them know what our plans are and to start consultations with the aim of working together to minimise any impact.

Our operational approach is very much about service oriented care for our customers. 

However, Ms Thomas says staffing shortages have been blamed for recent incidents of poor care at other Southern Cross facilities.

“All providers have to do under current regulation, is provide what they deem to be an ‘appropriate’ level of care. That’s not good enough. Unless the Government introduces minimum staffing levels and ties funding to the provision of decent, safe care, nursing home residents and nurses and carers will continue to suffer.”

“In the ACT, SCC was investigated over a dreadful incident where an elderly resident had 50 maggots in his lesions, another inquiry found it failed standards for clinical and behavioural management and skin care and in one Tasmanian facility, residents where left in bed and served cold food due to staffing shortages.”

“We dread to think what’s going to happen if the Federal Government allows SCC to go ahead and slash thousands of nursing and care hours across its facilities.”

“As a not for profit provider which claims to ‘look after’ people, SCC should be putting its elderly residents before any clumsy attempts to cut costs by sacking nursing and care staff in an effort to improve their financial position even further.”

In addition to nursing homes in Queensland, ANMF Members employed at Southern Cross in South Australia are also fighting against a reduction to staffing hours across five sites.

The Branch has notified a dispute to the Fair Work Commission, whilst in Tasmania qualified carers under enterprise agreement hourly rates are being paid ($20.83) which are under the Award.

“The Government is abrogating their responsibility if they do not step in and ensure that the funding they provide is enough to guarantee that vulnerable residents receive decent, safe care which must include minimum staffing requirements for nurses and carers.

We can no longer trust the facilities to simply tick a box and say they provide ‘adequate’ care,” Ms Thomas added.